FNQ – Tablelands and Cairns

Nothing like some stunning birds distracting one from having breakfast and packing up – these beautiful Olive-backed Sunbirds were having a great time feeding right next to our van.

As we couldn’t go further north in our hired campervan (or we could have but wouldn’t have been covered by any insurance), we decided to head back up to the Atherton Tablelands. After winding up another steep escarpment, we stopped at Kingfisher Lodge near Julatten, a wonderful birder’s paradise where you can either stay over or just visit for the day. We spent a few blissful (but also frustrating) hours wandering around, seeing some awesome birds (and butterflies) but getting a little tired of the low light and dense vegetation which makes rainforest photography so tricky.

We stopped a couple more times at some places that were recommended for birding – Abbatoir Swamp was not hugely scenic but quite productive; Mareeba Wetlands was mostly disappointing as apparently all the good birds had left in the prelude to Cyclone Debbie a few weeks earlier (and further south). The landscape in this area is very interesting with large anthills nested in amongst what reminded me strongly of an African savanna.

We then headed south to stay overnight at Lake Eacham, one of the stunning crater lakes (which possibly houses a freshwater crocodile). This is an awesome area to explore – fascinating forests with huge fig trees, lots of birds and other wildlife, plus delicious tea and scones at Lake Barrine! A highlight was a quick trip to Mount Hyipamee National Park where we saw an Amethystine Python in a tree (not too close, the downside of which is that I don’t have a decent image as I left my camera in the car and only had my phone).

Another slightly scary trip back down the escarpment saw us back in Cairns for a night with friends before heading home. Luckily they live close to the Botanical Gardens and Centenary Lakes so we managed to squeeze in a bit more birding and butterfly hunting.

FNQ 2 – Port Douglas and Daintree Village

A subtle sunset and a lovely meal on a tropical veranda in Port Douglas ended a great day – although I later realised that maybe I was a bit too close to the water’s edge when taking the image above, having forgotten about the crocodiles. Oops!

The following morning saw us up bright and early for a boat trip to the Low Isles, an easily accessible part of the Great Barrier Reef. Unfortunately the weather was not kind – very choppy seas and gloomy skies are not much good for visibility when snorkelling. We did enjoy the morning trip but it wasn’t exactly a highlight.

Next stop was the quaint Daintree Village, where we camped at the Daintree Riverview Park. While Sarah napped off the effects of getting up so early, I went for walk around the village and found a few interesting birds along the way. The light wasn’t the best but at least I didn’t get myself and my camera wet.

We had another early start the next day but a much more worthwhile one – a highly recommended cruise on the awesome Daintree River with Ian”Sauce” Worcester. Being a quiet time of the year, we had the boat to ourselves which made it even more special. A few more ‘lifers’ were seen, with the most exciting being Papuan Frogmouths and a Great-billed Heron.

Far North Queensland

This time last year I was lucky enough to spend a week in Far North Queensland, exploring the Cairns area with my daughter. I’ve always wanted to visit this area, largely because of the interesting birds that can be found there. The first day started well, with a new species (White-breasted Woodswallows) before I’d even left the airport . Once I had collected the camper van and Sarah had arrived from Sydney, we paid a quick visit to the Cairns Esplanade. Not the best time of day to bird by that stage, but the sun was shining and I managed a few decent images of another new species, a Peaceful Dove.

Then we set off to find our campsite for the first couple of nights. We stayed at the Speewah Conservation Park, a lovely spot near Kuranda. Definitely not recommended for caravans though – the road in is pretty steep in places. The first morning there were lots of birds calling in the rainforest, which got a bit frustrating as they were often really hard to spot. The Brown Cuckoo-doves were friendly and I got to know their call quite quickly. I do find birding in completely new places can be challenging if the vegetation is dense, as I don’t have any idea what all the calls belong to (Shazam for bird calls would be great).

We decided to stay up on the escarpment for the day and explore some of the waterfalls a bit further south. As you can see below, it was a very overcast (and sometimes wet) day so not the greatest for photographing birds. We had a fun time though, swimming at the Elinjaa Falls and seeing a good range of new birds, including the strange Pheasant Coucal. I have added the rather poor photo of  a Grey-Headed Robin to show the challenges of birding in the rainforest – no light and so many leaves for the birds to hide behind!

The following day we explored Kuranda and the Barron Gorge area, and then headed for Port Douglas on the coast. Sarah was not impressed with the beaches we stopped at – we are very spoilt in Western Australia – but we did find Port Douglas very attractive. After waking up to more interesting bird calls (I did spot one of the culprits – the Yellow Oriole), a visit to Mossman Gorge was in order. On the shuttle bus into the gorge, some tour guides were talking about an unusual sighting – and although we had gone for the self-guided option, we were lucky to be in the right place when they were pointing out the very cryptic Northern Leaf-tailed Gecko to their clients. We waited for everyone to move on and had a good look – I don’t how someone spotted it on the lichen covered tree trunk.